SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Getting to meet professional artists and viewing their work is not an everyday occurrence. In fact, many people have to trek to New York just to visit a studio. But residents of South Orange and Maplewood soon won’t have to travel far to see fine art; as part of the Artists Studio Tour, they can see numerous paintings and sculptures in their very own neighborhoods.
The 10th Annual South Orange/Maplewood Artists Studio Tour will be held Sunday, June 2, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event, which is presented by South Orange’s Pierro Gallery and Maplewood’s Gallery 1978, sees local artists opening their studios and displaying their work to residents, who are welcome at no cost. This year close to 70 artists will be participating in the tour, according to South Orange director of cultural affairs Sandy Martiny. Of that number, at least 30 are involved in the tour for the first time, Martiny added.
Martiny said the tour raises awareness for the artists who are often “hiding in plain sight,” with community members not realizing what they do for a living. She said residents can also benefit just by experiencing the art.
“I think it’s always important for people to have access to the arts,” Martiny said. “To be able to go into an artist’s studio and see how they work and talk to the artist about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it really brings a vibrancy to your life.”
Since making the tour free, Martiny said she noticed an increase in people who participate in it. She said now families, art lovers, friends and neighbors of the artists and even people who simply stumbled upon the tour route take part in the event. Last June over 900 joined in, and Martiny said she expects that number to rise this year.
Martiny said she receives very positive feedback about the tour from residents. As the years have gone by, the event has even developed a following.
“People really like it,” Martiny said. “It’s a once-a-year event that people look forward to coming to… People are really attached to it.”
In addition to the artists on the tour route, there are also several special programs being held as part of the event. People who visit the Pierro Gallery can see two exhibits, which both close June 22. “SOMA: Engaging Art” features pieces by tour artists that require audience interaction. Visitors can help artists Gerard Amsellem and Mikel Frank paint a canvas, witness an unusual curved painting by William Figdor and watch performance artist Christian Russell, among other things. Additionally at the gallery, “TEN: The Soul of SOMA” celebrates the tour’s tenth anniversary by presenting art from 36 of the event’s past participants.
“ABC: Art & Business Connection,” an ongoing series that ends June 2, involves displaying artwork in local businesses. Community members can see pieces in Gutten Parts, Spark House Studio, Robyn Ross and Papillon 25 Martini Bar & Restaurant. While in town, residents can search for hidden butterflies crocheted by the Rebel Yarns artist group. Finders of the butterflies are invited to bring them to Spiotta Park, where those who found the most will win an invitation to the tour after-party at SOPAC.
Community members can visit the event’s website at www.studiotoursoma.org to get a map of the tour route. They can also see interviews with 19 of the participating artists in which they give insight into the creative process. That project was spearheaded by artist Sybil Archibald, who also serves on the organization committee.
Archibald, whose studio will be open to the public for the tour, relishes the opportunity to work with fellow artists and hear their opinions of her work.
“I don’t think the importance of [the artistic] community can be overrated,” she said. “It just feeds the artist. It’s very hard to work in a vacuum, and artists work alone a lot. And so to have something where every year you know that all the artists are going to be getting together and joining forces, it’s just great.”
This year Archibald will be showcasing her Earthen Vessel Series of sculptures, which explores how creativity arises from suffering. She said suffering can lead to growth in people. Afflicted with scleroderma, Archibald said being ill actually has improved her art because it provides her with a deeper understanding of life and people, allowing her to be more creative as a result.
“As my body has broken down I suffer less because each time I have some sort of health episode, I let go of more of the stuff that I held on to – more of the anger, more of the pain, the sorrow… I let go of more of that stuff,” she said. “So I’m a greater vessel [for creativity] than I was when I first came into this lifetime.”
For her series, Archibald sculpted historical figures she describes as inspirations – people who overcame suffering to do great things. She said she hopes viewers will learn that they too can overcome any obstacles they face. The sculptures, as well as other artwork she created, will be for sale during the tour, with prices ranging from $25 to $20,000.
But for Archibald, the important thing about the tour is not money but providing a memorable occasion for residents.
“Art changes the way people see things,” Archibald said. “It can move you, it can stimulate your mind, it can engage your emotions – it can change you. So [the tour] is an opportunity for all the people in the community to come out and have a very meaningful experience.”